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Blessed Gérard lived at the transition from the 11th to the 12th century. He was a French Benedictine monk and the guest master of the Benedictine Monastery St. Maria Latina in Jerusalem. Numerous pilgrims found accommodation there, who came to see the places where Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead. Because the journeys in those days were a great strain, most of the pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem exhausted or sick.
Therefore the guest house of St. Maria Latina was more a hospital than a hotel and it was in those days commonly known as the Hospital of Jerusalem. Apart from nursing the sick they used to accommodate abandoned children, feed the starving, clothe the needy and care for discharged prisoners. Blessed Gérard founded the Brotherhood of St. John of Jerusalem as a charitable organisation to run the hospital.
This community is the historical root of the Hospital Order of St. John, the oldest Hospital Order of the Church, which is today known as the Order of Malta.
Their rule and spirituality is based on the Benedictine principle of hospitality. The stranger is to be welcomed as Christ himself.
Blessed Gérard and his brotherhood considered it an honour to serve the needy as they represent Christ. The members of the Hospital Order made the promise "to be servants and slaves to our Lords, the sick." On the other hand the sick also benefited from the pastoral care of the hospital which regarded itself not just a health institution, but a spiritual community. Altogether, the brothers on the one hand and the sick on the other hand, are mutually representing Christ, making life in the community of the hospital a mutual encounter with the Lord and therefore an event of salvation.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard wants to revitalise this spirit of the Brotherhood of St. John. It wants to give new life to the charisma of these origins and adopt it into the context of our present time and life situation.
On the 28th of October 1992 the Parish Priest of Mandini, Father Gérard, Mr. and Mrs. Kalkwarf from Mandini and Dr. & Mrs. Thabethe from Sundumbili founded the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard as a private association of Christ's faithful. On the 5th of November 1992 the Bishop of Eshowe gave his go-ahead and on 20th April 1993 he acknowledged the foundation as a church association through a formal decree. On the same day the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta in Rome acknowledged the Brotherhood as a relief organisation of the Order.
The motto of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard is the ancient motto of the Order of Malta: "tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum" - "Protection of the faith and service to the poor!" The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard lives this motto by serving the poor as volunteers, by running charitable projects, no matter what creed, colour of skin or political affiliation the needy may have.
The Brotherhood works in the greater Mandini area, approximately 100 km north of Durban. The population there is close to 100.000 inhabitants made up of more or less 84% Zulu, 6% Coloureds, 6% Indians and 4% white South Africans. A huge township called Sundumbili arose as a settlement for black people who worked for the big paper factory Sappi. Its population increased during the past years because of the development of an immense industrial area named iSithebe, which offers about 23.000 job opportunities. The attraction to get pay for their work tempted many Zulu people to leave their socially intact communities. This meant breaking up their natural environment and homes. Because of the long distances many of them could only return to their homes once or twice a year. However this only paid off for very few, because the wages are so low. These are hardly sufficient to build even simple houses. Therefore extensive Slums arose round iSithebe and Sundumbili, where people live in very small and primitive huts, patched together with corrugated iron, planks, old sacks, pieces of car wrecks and cardboard. In those informal settlements there is neither running water nor bore holes, electricity is like a foreign word and there is still no compulsory school attendance for black children in South Africa.
Therefore only very few manage to escape out of the vicious circle of poverty without help from outside:
insufficient education leads to unemployment, unemployment results in hunger, hunger makes people sick, sickness creates poverty and one who is poor cannot afford education.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard made it it's job to break the chain of this vicious circle and to make a life of human dignity possible: Through the Bursary Fund we fight insufficient education. Through Community Development and our household school we fight unemployment. Through our feeding scheme we fight hunger. Through health education and AIDS prevention we fight sickness. Through our care centre and our poor sick fund we fight poverty.
There is a big need here in our area: Once and formost there are people here, who are starving. There are small little children, whose brains get damaged, because they have not enough to eat, because they are malnourished. And so we said: "We must do something for them!" and we started a feeding scheme for malnourished infants in Sundumbili.
Severe malnutrition in early childhood leads to permanent brain damage. Our founder member, the medical practitioner Dr. Thabethe from Sundumbili and his wife Nokuthula, a qualified nursing sister have initiated a project by which we look after malnourished children. In our feeding scheme they counsel the mothers and teach them how to care for their children properly. They examine the children, weigh them and keep exact records of their progress. Where poverty is the reason for malnutrition and breast feeding is not sufficient or impossible the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard gives them milk, baby food and protein - enriched porridge free of charge.
FRIENDSHIP (former: TWILIGHT) CLUB
That is also not enough. We also must do something for old people, who are lonely at home, who are having their children, but they are at work and they sit at home also doing nothing, sitting in front of the TV the whole day or looking what they can do. And so we said: We must make a kind of meeting where these people come together, where they meet and where they chat and where they talk and where they get some information and where they can be happy together and so we started what we call "Twilight-Clubs". We have got one club here in Mandini and one club in Mangete, where the elderly people should gat out of their isolation and meet together and, what I like so much in those Twilight-Clubs, that is, that those people now say: No, we don't want just to be helped. We want to be helpers ourselves. And they say those who want to do their own thing and they want to do things with which they can help other people. And that is actually a very nice idea.
Our active members Mrs. Yvonne Renaud, Mrs. Wendy Richardson and Mrs. Margaret Hawthorn invite all interested senior citizens twice a month to join them for a cup of tea and a chat and a different activity each time, for example a doctor gave a talk on geriatric ailments, a nurse taught calinetics, they played games or did handicrafts. This serves to get the elderly out of their isolation and to find new friends.
Mrs. Marjorie Clark had to have open heart surgery, but the Medical Aid would not cover all the costs. The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard raised the funds to pay for the difference.
As she has now fully recovered, she has become an active member of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard herself and leads another Club for senior citizens in Mangete together with her husband Gerald and her son Hayne.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CENTRE
There is another big need, too. There are many people, who are sitting at home, who have nothing to do, who just wait, until the day goes by. And then we said: No, we must help those people to be able to employ themselves, to do some work, where they can make money with. And so we said: We will start a community development centre and that we did in Sundumbili, too. We started this community development centre by sewing classes where people learn to make dresses, where they learn to sew, so that they can sell what they are producing and make a living for themselves, for their many children and for their husbands, because sometimes one person has to support many people.
The old slogan "give a fish to a poor man, then he has enough for a day - teach him fishing, then he will always have enough" is still true and expresses best what we are trying to achieve in our community development centre. It should give skills to the needy to encourage self-employment and thus to make them independent of charity. Our first step towards this is a sewing school. We employed Miss Lindiwe Mazibuko, a highly qualified sewing teacher, to give dressmaking courses. Starting as inexperienced beginners the participants after a while are able to sew beautiful garments of high quality.
That can't be enough, that we just theach them sewing. We also must teach people to care for their own health. Because, if they are sick, if they cannot work, because they are sick, it is also not good. And so we said: Now we must start to do something that people keep themselves healthy. And what we are going to do that is to make courses in basic health care. And first and foremost there will be a programme to tell people how dangerous a sickness is, which is calles AIDS and which is spreading round in our area in a terrible way. A doctor from Ngwelezane Hospital told me: It's round about 10% of the population, who are carrying germs, it's actually a virus, in themselves who causes that sickness. It takes some 10 years to develop, but then they all die. And so we must do something that people don't get sick with this sickness, which we call AIDS, and so, what we are going to do in this community development centre is to give courses to tell the people how to avoid that terrible sickness, which kills so many people.
Our community development centre will soon become involved in the AIDS Education Program which Dr. Thabethe initiated in the area by giving talks and courses on how to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.
There is another need, too: There are so many people, who can't get a job, they can't get work, because they haven't got the skills, because they have no training to do work. And many people, we know, look for work in a household, but they don't get a job, because they don't know how to do those and how to run those modern things in those modern households of ours in our days. And so we said: We must help there, that people can get employment or that people who have got employment already, can do their jobs better and so improve on their own lives.
Our vice-president Mrs. Clare Kalkwarf put the idea into action to organise a basic training for domestic helpers. Many people coming from a rural environment are not familiar with modern household appliances and procedures. For them it is very difficult to find work. Mrs. Yvonne Renaud took the challenge as the principal of our domestic training school to introduce and train interested people theoretically and practically in conversational English, the safe use of electricity and appliances, cooking, ironing and personal hygiene. She is helped by a group of volunteers, including our active members Mrs. Margaret Hawthorn, Mrs. Madge Mc Dermid, Mrs. Joyce Buss as well as Mrs. Wendy Richardson. What the students have learnt they must prove in a final examination to obtain their certificate.
Mrs. Mbokazi, who took part in the first of the courses, said: "Reverend Father, Mrs. Kalkwarf, I would like to say a few words on behalf of the work which has been done. I think I should thank everybody for what he or she has contributed towards us. When I came here the first day, I asked myself: Why did I leave my home and come here ..., but now I have learnt a lot. ... it was a blessing, because you could afford to teach us when we knew nothing. So I say: May God bless you all!"
... who are being sent home from hospital, but cannot be helped by their families. And so we said: We try to build a kind of a home or hospice, where those people can be cared for.
Maria from outside Sundumbili died in Summer 1992 from neglect. She was not acutely sick, so she had no place in hospital, but her relatives, two frail old women, could not cope with nursing her. She died from malnutrition and bed sores. Cases like Maria's are no exception. The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard therefore wants to erect a Care Centre for needy sick people who cannot be nursed in hospital, but cannot be cared for in their homes either. The Care Centre will have a double role at first to enable relatives to do home nursing by training them in Basic Health Care and nursing, and secondly to be an extended home for those who would otherwise be neglected.
... and then we said: Well, there are many other needs in our area, too. For example, there are people, who are so poor, that they can't pay for the education of their children, and so we said, the Brotherhood said: We try to raise funds, that we can help people, who can't pay for the education of their children, because I think it is a key for the good future of South Africa, that we have good education for everybody.
Education is a key to a good future of every society, but many cannot afford its costs. That is why we have a Bursary Fund to help poor people to get a proper education.
In many more cases we help, when people are in sudden need, for example to give food to starving families, to give clothing to the poor, to give building material to needy people whose huts have burned down, or just to counsel and give advice to those who have no solution to so many different problems.
The Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard helps and wants to help in future, but every organisation can only fulfill its aim, if there are members who do the work and if there are funds to pay for it.
That is why we appeal to all of you:
Help us to help...
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This page was last updated on Monday, 01 April 2013 00:09:58.